If you haven’t read it yet, here is the link to Part 1 of this review.
I give credit to anyone who reads both of these reviews all the way through. They will collectively be my longest reviews ever, I’m sure of it. This book warrants great discussion—I just have rarely found any people who have read it or to whom I would feel comfortable recommending it.
Set in a future where our environment has been seriously compromised and our central communication system has been destroyed, we come to know the people who live in the San Francisco bay area. Thirty years prior they peacefully resisted and forced out the neo-fascist “Stewards” who control the “Southlands.” They spent the years in between struggling to restore natural resources in the city, and plant fruit trees and gardens. They pride themselves that no one goes hungry, thirsty or homeless in their city and that everyone gets the care they need. There is no crime because everyone has enough to meet their needs. Every able body works and contributes to the society’s needs in the way best suited to them. They have access to education if they want to pursue medicine or science or some other discipline. But they have not wasted any resources on weapons or defense. And they know that the time is drawing near when the Stewards will invade them again.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Madrone, one of the main characters, is describing her home to some women from the Southlands. They pepper her with questions and she describes its inner workings in detail. She denies it’s a utopia or a perfect communist society. There is no central government, rather representatives from different neighborhoods and work guilds that come together in council and make decisions for the city as a whole. All decisions are made with respect for all beings and respect for the environment. “The Four Sacred Things are earth, air, fire, and water. Nobody can own them or profit from them, and it’s our responsibility to heal them and take care of them. That’s the basis of our politics and or economy.” (P. 272)
Aside from the detailed descriptions of this fully cooperative city, the other idea in this book that impressed me was the City’s defensive plan for when the Stewards invade them. It’s peaceful resistance taken to the extreme end. Our protagonists look at the army that is invading them, an army made up of mostly enslaved peoples and they offer those individuals an invitation “There is a place set for you at our table, if you will choose to join us.” (P.218) Now imagine you are a member of an oppressed group, forced to work in an army that may have killed your family and treats you no better than an animal. When you march into a land where people who look like you have equal rights to all other people, where food and water are plentiful and they ask you to join them, would you stay with your oppressors or join the side that wants you for who you are? It’s a fascinating idea. Whenever I’ve told anyone who hasn’t read the book about it, they always counter with something like, “Well, in the REAL world, it would never work.” But think about this…Instead of invading a country that harbors extremists with terrorist tendencies, what if we offered food and resources and education to them? I’m not talking straight out charity, but rather a helping hand---‘We can help you survive better in your place and we want to work with you to improve your conditions.’ Would they appreciate that more than the extremist words of other groups? Maybe. Hopefully. Kill them with kindness, not weapons, and you may end up with a friend instead of an enemy. And extremism will have nowhere to breed.
Crack Factor – 9.5. This is a true adventure/war story, a definite page turner.
Tears Shed Factor - ? It wasn’t until I went through my rating categories did I realize that I don’t think I ever cried reading this book. There are a few laugh-out-loud parts and there are many difficult, upsetting and disturbing passages, but I don’t think the reason I didn’t cry was because of my desensitization from having read it before. It’s just not a book that makes you weepy. At least it wasn’t for me.
Distraction Factor – 10+. This book has been distracting me for 15 years. I have thought about it over and over and over again and it has impacted my life in many ways.
People Factor – 7.5. I love the main characters in the book, and appreciate many of the secondary characters. I’m giving this a lower rating because over the years I’ve come to appreciate more development of the “bad” characters, too. Starhawk doesn’t do this at all.
Story Telling Factor – 8. This story is fast paced. It moves along quickly, but you also get a great sense of setting. You really understand the world our characters live in because she describes the society in detail. Yet she does it in ways that don’t make it seem forced. For example, that scene I already mentioned, where Madrone sits in on a ladies’ luncheon in the Southlands. The women are a secret group who want to make things better for women but don’t know where to start. Madrone is able to describe the organization of the City in detail, and it seems a natural part of the story, not a narrator induced description.
One drawback for me is that I think Starhawk relies a little too much on “magic.” Her main characters are witches and while there isn’t “Harry Potter” style transfiguration or anything like that, a few parts seem a little far-fetched when people get rescued by bees with a conscience or the character opens an electronic lock with her mind powers. I wish she could have found more realistic ways of tying the loose bits together.
Writing Skills Factor – 8. The story flows well and is uninhibited by Starhawk’s writing style. I like her laid-back dialog.
Bad Ass Babe Factor – 8.5. Two of the main protagonists, Madrone and Maya, are definite BABs. Even Maya in her 90s is fierce and brave. Their courage comes out when they do what must be done even though it frightens them. Lily of the defense council is another definite BAB. Some of the greatest words of wisdom in the book come from her lips.
Hotter than Adam Factor – 8. Bird is a great character. When he escapes from prison in the Southlands, he overcomes so much. His own acknowledgement of his fears and defeats and failures only give him a higher rating on my scale. And while held captive by the invading force his intelligence helps him save so many others when most people would have given up.
Total Rating: 8.5